'Iolanthe' given a spirited performance


"Iolanthe" occupies an interesting slot in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon.

The plot (a race of female fairies subdues Britain's House of Peers) is perhaps the silliest of all, but the score contains some of the most introspective music Sir Arthur Sullivan ever composed.

So it's not quite the tuneful romp of "Pinafore" or "Pirates of Penzance," which might explain why performances are relatively rare.

But "Iolanthe" is a true joy when done well, which is certainly the case over at the Naval Academy, where it will play at Mahan Hall this weekend and next.

The production is nearly everything you'd want your G&S; to be: funny, spirited, colorful, spritely, strongly characterized, well-played and mostly well-sung. What else is there?

The fellows -- leads and chorus both -- are particularly striking. Michael Belotti commits grand larceny in scene after scene as the foppish Lord Chancellor. As he pranced, mugged and sang with complete idiomatic assurance, I had to wonder whether the music theater folks at the academy don't have an arrangement with some senator somewhere to send them a "patter man" this good every few years so they can pull off a Gilbert and Sullivan show.

Also excellent is Michael Spooner as Strephon, the half-man, half-fairy son of Iolanthe, the fairy banished to the bog for having loved a mortal. You'll also be impressed by William Turner and Michael Anderson as the featured pair of snooty peers. They sing well, and if their noses were any further up in the air they'd have to attach blinking lights to them.

The women are also enjoyable, if less imposing musically. The best of them is Bernadette Quattrone as the commanding but marshmallow-ey Fairy Queen. Her costuming is a riot; this fairy looks as if she got lost on her way to Bayreuth for a performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Jennifer Poff is cute in the title role, and Julie Preyer puts her small, flirty voice to good use as Phyllis, the mortal Strephon wishes to marry.

The choral numbers ring with authority and Barry Talley has assembled a very fine ensemble of accompanying musicians. This score is no cupcake, but they bring it off nicely.

My only regret is that I saw this Sunday with a snow-reduced audience. I have a feeling it would be great fun to see "Iolanthe" with a large complement of Mids laughing at the jokes and cheering on their comrades, especially Thomas Sicola as the hilarious Private of the Guard. Some characters just hit closer to home than others, I'll bet.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $6, $8 and $10. Information: 268-6060.

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